I was in Pulau Redang recently with some friends. We went snorkelling and scuba diving, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. The underwater world is breathtaking. We saw beautiful corals, colourful fishes, sea cucumbers and turtles. It’s a world without obstacles and discrimination. Scuba diving gave me a new sense of mobility. If anyone had invited me to go diving 15 years ago, I would have thought it was impossible.
I was in the prime of life 15 years ago when I was diagnosed with brain tumour. The tumour was 3.5cm in diameter and it was giving me severe migraines.
I was wheeled into the operating theatre on Nov 20, 1998, and underwent a delicate eight-hour operation.
Three weeks later, I was discharged. Without any prior knowledge of how brain surgery affects nerves, neurons and brain function, I was ill-prepared for the aftermath. I had double vision, speech problem, and limited mobility. I was worried if I would ever recover fully and live a normal life.
The thought of disability scared the daylights out of me. Thankfully, my mobility, vision and speech improved as the days went by.
After a few days at home, I was hospitalised again, this time for a blood disorder. My red blood cells kept breaking down and this was manifested in my urine samples. Blood infusions and tests followed. While the haematologist was trying hard to figure out what was wrong with my blood, a miracle happened – the red blood cells stopped breaking down on Christmas Eve. I was discharged a week later.
After recuperating at home for four months, I went back to work even though my right knee had not regained its full strength.
I was a compliant patient and took my medicine accordingly, attended doctors’ appointments as scheduled, and did my annual MRI scans as advised by the neurosurgeon.
Despite all these, I could not prevent what was coming, In early December 2000, the MRI scan picked up a residual tumour. The neurosurgeon advised early removal to avoid further complications as the tumour was near the aorta.
The surgeon suggested stereotactic radiosurgery which involves a precise delivery of radiation to the tumour while sparing the surrounding tissues. The treatment was a success.
About six months after radiosurgery, I experienced a grand mal seizure while having lunch with my colleagues. After I came around, I felt dazed and my legs felt heavy.
I was rushed to the hospital by my colleagues. The neurosurgeon did some tests and explained to me that what I had experienced was a type of epileptic attack. Unfortunately, seizures can only be controlled by using anti-convulsion drugs; there was no known cure for the condition.
After the seizure, I felt weakness on the right side of my body. I had difficulty controlling my right hand and leg.
The weakness got progressively worse. Soon I was not able to drive or work. Three months later, I was medically boarded out.
Gone was my dream of a successful career. My world had crumbled. I felt grief and anger. I was scared and felt helpless. Everything seemed beyond my control. I went through mood swings, and was emotional most of the time.
I talked very little, and woke up crying in the middle of the night. Eventually I forgot how to sing, laugh or smile, and withdrew into my shell.
At one point, I was so depressed that I gave away a lot of my stuff – clothes, handbags, shoes, watches, and books.
I spent my days lying on the bed, or sitting with both feet propped up because my right leg was badly swollen. It was difficult to concentrate on anything. I spent my time watching TV, flipping from channel to channel.
I hated myself for living like that. I hated myself for being a burden to others. I hated myself for making the lives of those around me, miserable. I spent four years living like that. It was the lowest point in my life. I was only in my mid-thirties then.
It was the love and support of those around me, and the desire to free myself from hatred, that pushed me to view life in a different manner. If I were to live to 70 or 80, I wouldn’t want to spend the next 40 years living like a zombie. I was not about to let paralysis stop me from living life to the full.
It helped that I enjoy doing exercises, even before the onset of disability. I turned to physiotherapy with renewed vigour. I fell many times and picked myself up as many times.
I worked closely with rehabilitation physicians and physiotherapists, and it was through much sweat and tears that I now enjoy greater mobility.
My daily dose of anti-convulsion drugs has been reduced to a minimum. The last CT scan did not pick up any scar tissue or residual tumour. Finally, things are brightening up. I can look forward to a future filled with promises.